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Kolymsky Heights by Lionel Davidson

Kolymsky Heights (1994)

by Lionel Davidson

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3821828,205 (3.68)18
  1. 00
    Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow by Peter Høeg (jayne_charles)
    jayne_charles: More intrigue at sub-zero temperatures
  2. 00
    Kim by Rudyard Kipling (wandering_star)
    wandering_star: Both these books feature cunning, clever spies who speak several languages and can pass for several different nationalities - they are also both great adventures.

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The fact that I was expecting a horror novel and got a thriller is my fault, not the author's or the publisher. And since I am not a big fan of thrillers, I went into this book with a feeling of obligation rather than excitement.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the book. While I wouldn't re-read it, the pacing was good, all the characters enjoyable (although the Russian Major General is a bit two-dimensional) and the plot kept my attention.

This novel might be an even bigger pleasure for someone who loves thrillers, but for me it was still an engaging read.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  Jammies | Apr 23, 2017 |
I’m not much of a classic thriller reader myself but I loved that icy photo on the cover. That was what drew me in! "Kolymsky Heights" really is a cracker. Page turning narrative, and the writing of place is superb; Davidson takes me to the Siberian wilderness every bit as much as any travel writer ever has. This is my first novel from him. I came across this first novel, from a friend of mine. Davidson has two deep traits: how sentences and how characters work. Both are deployed superbly in the Story: the syntax drew me into the very thought processes, what it is to be the fascinating characters he depicts. It’s old-fashioned in a good way, it’s full of drama and adventure, exotic locations, goodies and baddies, as every spy Book worth its salt should be. For most of the books I read, I always write lots of notes to allow me, later on, to breeze through the review. That’s close reading for you! This time round, I didn’t write a single line. And that is actually not a bad thing. This is a no-nonsense story. Davidson did not try “Literature”. As I said, Davidson wrote an old-fashioned thriller, but what a thriller. Basically, he is telling me a story by the fire. With a beginning, a middle and an end. And it's relentless. There is no time, no space or no will to force the narrative. Everything just flows. The style is as dry as they come, with the exceptions of a few cold jokes. Every word, every chapter, every paragraph’s sole purpose is to advance the plot, with a supreme kind of efficiency, ruthless like the main character. Once I started, it was impossible to put it down, in case I’d miss something. And the details are everything. Johnny Porter is nothing if not a very meticulous man (step aside James Bond). His journey starts with a preparation where, during months; on top pf that, he has to refresh is Russian and Korean, learn the way a merchant boat is set in order to prepare his "legend", memorize every tiny scrap of information found and prepared for him in order to successfully infiltrate the mysterious Soviet laboratory which might explain the unexpected failures of Chinese rockets... But of course, after any preparation, comes the moment when the man has to improvise. The plot is just plain crazy, bursting at the seams, but it works like a charm. Who would have thought I’d ever give 4 stars for a spy Fiction book of the thriller variety? Every aspiring writer should read it in order to see how to master storytelling and the subtle art of details which make any story believable. A brilliant work. ( )
  antao | Mar 31, 2017 |
This writer is said to be a master of the thriller genre. Kolymsky Heights is the only book of his that I have read so far and though I thought it was written and well plotted, it seemed to lack a clear storyline and sense of purpose. This is an odd comparison but it makes me think of the Jack Reacher novels where action takes pride of place over any particular meaning or purpose to the story. The problem solver and his skills are more interesting than the meaning of the problem.

In Kolmsky you have a very well-crafted Native American hero who is recruited by the CIA to undertake a dangerous and important mission to the Russia (kind of a novel plot line) to investigate some very bizzarre experiments the Russian's are conducting with ice-age archaeology and primates which may have important national security implications.

It's an exciting and fast faced story with engaging characters but in the end you are left wondering what the point was. Actors are always asking directors "what's my motivation ?" I think Davidson should have asked himself the same question: what do I want to say here ?

In the end the plot seemed a little contrived and only a device to hold together very good action sequences and well paced writing. Which is perfectly OK and many readers like well told action stories.

In fairness, I should day that there is a lot of interesting details about Siberia and especially about the indigenous people living under Russian rule. I did find this background detail quite interesting and you might also if you like stories involving tribal "first peoples".

If you like Reacher novels, you might well like Kolymsky Heights. He has written another novel that is set in the Holy Land (The Menorah Men) that I might try next so I think he is worth a look if you like action-thrillers. ( )
  blnq | Dec 27, 2016 |
A somewhat intriguing thriller with science fiction elements that makes this interesting but not now, unique reading. One would have to read it as a period piece, in fact an end of the Cold War sort of period piece, with the various limitations that this sets itself. At times fast paced, it's interesting and intriguing and I never lost interest but there was a sort of detachment that infects not only he main character but the reader as well. Interesting and at times, has points that any reader of adventure fiction would enjoy. ( )
  aadyer | Dec 17, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312956614, Paperback)

Johnny Porter, a rebel with a gift for language and disguise, discovers a Russian scientific secret that could either be used to improve the world or destroy it. Reprint. NYT.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:56 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The hero is Johnny Porter, an Oxford-educated Canadian Indian who is an accomplished linguist and master of disguise. The CIA sends him to Russia to obtain information on a genetics program. He enrolls as a Korean deckhand on a ship in Japan, crosses Siberia as a truck driver--in which capacity he meets beautiful Dr. Tanya Komarov--picks up the information and in a hail of bullets dashes home across the Bering Straits. By the author of The Night of the Wenceslas.… (more)

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